Friday, January 30, 2009

Vision of the future - 35% of US Adults using online social networks - 75% of 18-24yr olds

The music industry has a maxim - most people prefer to buy and listen to the music they listened to in their late teens or early twenties.

Of course they still listen to, enjoy and buy other music, but at the end of the day the Beatles, BeeGees, ABBA, the Rolling Stones and other bands would not have the continuing strength of following they have today if those who were teens in the sixties and seventies didn't continue to love and pay for their music.

This imprinting also holds for internet usage. While people of all ages use the internet, commonly those over the age of 35 or 40 are termed 'digital immigrants', while younger people are termed 'digital natives'.

This reflects how the internet is placed in their world view. There's a simple way to check to see which of these groups you're likely to be,

When you need to find the phone number for a restauant do you first think of the yellow pages or Google?

When you are booking a holiday do you first think of a travel agent or an online booking site?

If the internet is central in your approach, you're likely a digital native (whatever your age).

This is very keenly visible in the ages of people using online social networks. PEW Research recently released a review of online Americans' use of social networks (PDF), which demonstrates the age differences discussed above.

Most importantly this provides Australian government with an early warning as to how it needs to change its engagement and communications to continue to be relevant.

So what is going on in the US?

PEW reports that,
Young people are much more likely than older adults to use social networks.
  • 75% of online adults 18-24 have a profile on a social network site
  • 57% of online adults 25-34 have a profile on a social network
  • 30% of online adults 35-44 have one
  • 19% of online 45 to 54 year olds have a profile
  • 10% of online 55 to 64 year olds have a profile
  • 7% of online adults 65 and older have a profile

Also very interesting was usage by income level. PEW reported that lower income earners were more likely to use these networks than higher income earners, as follows,
The percentage of Americans in each demographic category who have a profile on a social media network,
Earns less than $30,000 - 45%
Earns $30,000 - $49,999 - 38%
Earns $50,000 - $74,999 - 30%
Earns $75,000+ - 31%

Perhaps more telling for government is what people are using these networks to do. When PEW asked, Do you use your online profile for..., the below were the results for adults,
  • Stay in touch with friends - 89%
  • Make plans with friends - 57%
  • Make new friends - 49%
  • Organize with others for an event, issue or cause - 43%
  • Make new business or professional contacts - 28%
  • Promote yourself or your work - 28%
  • Flirt - 20%

So what does this mean for Australian government?
My research over the last twelve years of watching online trends closely indicates that Australians are much like Americans in their internet usage, but 18-24 months behind. Therefore if your agency needs to target people under the age of 35 then within the next 18 months it is likely that 60% or more of your customers/audience/clients/younger staff will be using social networks.

This gives Australian government 12-18 months to become proficient in effectively using these networks to engage with any and all of these audiences - for communication, consultation or employment.

That's a nice window to have - but it will pass quickly.

We need to begin now to align our communications and service delivery management with the mindset and skills required to deliver messages and engage audiences successfully through these channels.

We also need more agency experiments with social networks to build our practical expertise and IT skills.

The ATO seems to recognise this, with their e-Tax Facebook group.

While e-Tax isn't the most riveting subject for most of us, it's a tool with the potential to save both government and citizens significant time and money.

Facebook is the obvious place to find people who would choose to use an e-Tax package, and is full of people prepared to give their frank and fearless views on the current product, helping the ATO understand the improvements necessary to continue to broaden its appeal.

Canberra University is also actively using Facebook to seek new employees - quite a smart approach in my view, although I don't know how successful it has been.

So how is your agency planning to address the need to understand and adapt its communication and marketing to a mostly online audience?

What is it doing to build internal expertise in social networks and position itself to use these channels to reach audiences?

If instead you're waiting on the sidelines, what are you waiting for?


  1. Here's the firm that manages your social network, says FOX NEWS. Watch the video, it's cool!

  2. We can look at the coming demographic wave from two directions - on the one hand, what are now being referred to as "web 2.0" tools will continue to spring up to meet emerging demand; on the other, existing technologies will need to adapt to changing user expectations. In other words, the need to make applications intuitive will just get increasingly acute. This is certainly on my company's radar (CT TyMetrix GM John Weber's post on this point is on the Legal Spend Management blog,, as we look at "digital natives" reaching senior positions in law departments and law firms, and with that wielding ever greater influence over business purchasing decisions.

  3. Hi Scott,

    That's an interesting post by John and very timely.

    Across private and public sectors there's a huge gap between the 50+ executives, some of whom still prefer their email printed, and the 30+ middle managers who are active social media users.

    The profit margin is forcing the private sector to change fast - companies who retain inefficient means of production cannot find the same cost savings.

    However the public sector changes more slowly as there is no impetus from shareholders and boards to push cost savings to drive profits and corporate survival.

    Essentially the public sector is cushioned, making change slower and, in many ways, more painful.